Staff and students from the University of Portsmouth have taken part in Europe’s biggest ever emergency response exercise – involving a tower block collapsing on Waterloo Station

The fictional but painstakingly realised scenario was at the heart of Exercise Unified Response, which took place at four sites in London and involved more than 70 agencies and 4,000 people.

Organised by London Fire Brigade and the London Resilience Partnership, the exercise was designed to test the UK’s readiness in dealing with major incidents involving urban search and rescue and identifying victims.

The University provided teams of evaluators led by academic researchers Dr Alison Wakefield (of the Institute of Criminal Justice Studies), Dr Sara Thorne (Portsmouth Business School) and Dr Richard Teeuw (School of Earth and Environmental Sciences).

Some students were also involved and will be using observations from the exercise as the basis for postgraduate research projects.

Dr Teeuw said: “Taking part in the exercise has been a unique opportunity, allowing a team of around 20 from the University of Portsmouth to work closely with London Fire Brigade organisers in order to support the evaluation of the exercise and learn lessons for the future.

“This will enable the UK and the EU to fine-tune their urban disaster responses, training staff in rescue techniques, testing procedures and equipment.”

Tom Hales, a part-time student on the MSc Crisis and Disaster Management course and a specialist rescue technician and trainer, added: “It was a fantastic opportunity to be part of the evaluation team and participate in an exercise on this scale.”

The exercise took place at sites in central London and a disused power station near Dartford Bridge, with a mock-up of Waterloo Station containing train carriages buried under rubble – designed to make the search and rescue efforts as realistic as possible.

In the scenario, UK search and rescue teams are already at full stretch because of another major building collapse elsewhere in the country, so help has been requested from Europe.

Specialist teams from all over Europe took part in the exercise – part-funded by the EU – which involved more than 2,000 volunteers playing casualties.

For information about Portsmouth Business School, its courses and regular events, please visit www.port.ac.uk/pbsevents

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